England fans should be afraid – very afraid. Not because of the way the team performed against France, which was admirable given all the factors working against Roy Hodgson’s team, but because the manager has begun talk of rotation.
Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard were the focus of this discussion, and Parker in particular looked to be feeling the heat on Monday against the French. He has been fighting an achilles injury throughout the final part of the domestic season, and he is paying the price as matches draw to a close.
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The fact that England are spending 3/5’ths of the game without the ball is not helping the midfield men who are the wrong side of 30. Chasing the game, particularly in extreme heat, is punishing. But the thought of playing without Gerrard or Parker is a scary prospect.
The only time that either should be left out of the starting XI is if we seal a comprehensive win against Sweden on Friday, and only then it should be one or the other. To leave both out of the team would be foolish. Because for as much potential as they have, a central midfield pairing of Phil Jones and Jordan Henderson will not be good enough at this level.
Hodgson will need to look after his first choices more effectively. Parker ought to be withdrawn after an hour in any case, as anyone who saw Monday’s game would attest. Having hustled and harried Nasri and co. all evening, the Tottenham man appeared to be running through treacle. This final half hour, when they are fresh, is where Jones and Henderson can be effective and impact games.
The return of Wayne Rooney should ease the burden on Gerrard. The United man’s tendency to drop deep will free Gerrard of much of his leg work, allowing him to conserve energy and perhaps be seen in the final third of the pitch, should the situation allow.
Gary Neville wrote in his book that in Euro 2004, Sven Goran-Eriksson’s refusal to rotate cost the side dear. As a member of the coaching stuff eight years on, Neville must see that the depth of talent to rotate just isn’t there. It is only now that those who laughed off the loss of Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry in the lead up to the tournament will see the damage their respective injuries have caused.
If Gerrard were to conk out, Lampard would be seen as an ideal replacement. As it is, we must lay our hopes at the feet of a defender who has played a handful of games in midfield, and a midfielder who it sometimes appears has never played in the position.
Of course, with the advances in physical recovery in the last decade, Parker may spring up on Friday evening fresh as a daisy, perhaps having shed a few of the years that are so slowing him. If that isn’t the case, however, Roy must look after Scott and Steve. If he doesn’t, we will pay the inevitable price at the quarter-final stage.
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